Livable Income

Edith Perry, left, of Millview, was one of the main organizers of a meeting in Souris on guaranteed basic income for low-wage earners. Also pictured is Michelle Jay of the PEI Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Angus McPhail photo

It’s getting harder to survive these days. That was the feeling coming from a meeting of the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income, which was attended by 20 people, last Wednesday evening in Souris.

Individuals gathered at the Silver Threads Seniors Club on Main Street to talk about the issues many people face and how a guaranteed basic income would help them make ends meet month to month.

Edith Perry, of Millview, is a member of the Working Group for a Livable Income and was one of the meeting’s organizers. She said Islanders need a guaranteed basic income. Her group, which has become a national organization, has been holding a series of meetings in communities across the Island to hear Islanders’ suggestions on what can be done to help low-income Islanders.

“A certain amount of money will be given to an individual based on numbers in the family, etcetera,” Ms Perry said.

“We haven’t got specifics yet, but we’re working on that and again, that’s where community input is very valuable.”

Ms Perry said a guaranteed basic income would be able to eliminate the need for such programs as social assistance, which have been abused in the past. Although there are many models, one idea for a guaranteed basic income her group is proposing would be based on a person’s income, and would not impede things such as employment insurance or income from part-time or full-time work.

“We want to lobby government to do a pilot project on Prince Edward Island using basic income,” Mr Perry said.

“And hopefully from that pilot project, it will go on to become province-wide.”

The Working Group for a Livable Income is taking a grassroots approach to creating solutions for people with low incomes, Ms Perry said. By meeting with individuals around the Island in group conversation settings, the group can find out new information about what Islanders think would help low-income earners in the province get a better quality of life.

“We will be able to design a model that should best work for Prince Edward Island.”

The guaranteed basic income would operate in a similar way to incomes provided to old-age pensioners, Ms Perry said.

“It would be based on enough income provided by government ... to meet their basic needs on an annual basis.”

Jeanette Hill of Souris attended the meeting. She is a single mother and said she finds it very difficult to make a living working at low-wage jobs with prices constantly increasing.

“Everything’s going up, but wages aren’t,” Ms Hill said.

She said a government funded basic personal income would help those in poverty to bring themselves out of it, and less poverty could help address issues the poor often deal with the most, such as mental illness.

“To give guaranteed income would help people in general,” Ms Hill said.

Gina Younker and Tammy Jones came all the way from Charlottetown to attend the meeting because they wanted to find out more information on guaranteed basic incomes. Ms Younker is involved with the Paths to Prosperity group as part of the Women’s Network PEI. She said there is not enough assistance to low-income workers for them to be able to make any headway into getting off other assistance programs.

“People would eventually be able to get off assistance,” Ms Younker said of the adaptation of a guaranteed basic income.

Through discussions with the Paths to Prosperity group in places all over the Island, the group heard how many Islanders are having trouble making ends meet every month. During one meeting, a woman told the group there was no hope for her. Due to low wages she likely wouldn’t be alive in 10 years.

“Every place had similar conversations.”

Ms Jones said groups like these give people like her a voice.

“I am low-income,” she said.

During the meeting, individuals discussed how low wages affect other aspects of Island life. One Morell resident said if there was a guaranteed basic income for farmers, it would encourage more young people to get into farming who would otherwise not get into the industry for fear of variable profits annually. Another commented on countries that already have a guaranteed basic income and how there is less illness and fewer social problems, but these issues aren’t addressed by politicians.

The Working Group for a Livable Income has its origins with the Cooper Institute of PEI. During the winter and spring of 2003 to 2004, the Institute held two five-week programs and assisted in organizing three community workshops on minimum wage and low wages with the objectives of raising awareness among Island communities about low-wage workers in the province and to engage citizens in influencing public policy related to wages and working conditions. Through discussions with other groups, such as the Women’s Network PEI and the PEI Federation of Labour, about the issue of low incomes on PEI, the PEI Working Group for a Livable Income was conceived in September, 2003.

The next Basic Income Guarantee Community Forum will take place in O’Leary on May 1. For more information please call Ann Wheatley at 894-4573.

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